The New Adventures of Dean and Mrs

Early in the semester we were invited to a private viewing of a documentary produced and directed by one of Todd’s faculty members about pirate radio in Britain in the 1960s. Briefly, these were unlicensed radio “stations” broadcasting from ships anchored in international waters; however “legal” the broadcast from outside the territorial limits, it was considered illegal to listen to these “unauthorized” broadcasts. There is so much more to the history that I won’t go into, mostly because I have a terrible memory and don’t want to do Wayne a disservice for his beautifully done documentary.

The event was hosted by a couple well known to the college at The Vineyard in Havre de Grace, a lovely little two-room wine bar with a delightful array of tapas, flatbreads, and charcuterie. Todd and I were among a group of maybe 15, including the president and vice president of the college and a handful of other (I perceived) important people.

We met our hosts outside as we arrived; she is a French ex-pat who had just received her US citizenship mere days before and he a retired man of politics who in casual conversation shared a memory of his time in Reagan’s White House. My jaw almost dropped before I remembered to pretend I met people like this all the time. She was a beautiful, petite woman with an open face and a smile that lit up a room, and we discovered we had the restaurant blood in common as she used to own a restaurant in France for about ten years. It was a bit more difficult to find things in common with a man who served in Reagan’s White House, but I was enthralled by his stories. He was unpretentious and kind.

Next up: Todd decided he wanted to have a “casual” faculty meeting. At our home. I repeat, AT. OUR. HOME. I tried to talk him out of it. I tried to encourage him to have it in a neutral location. I suggested it was “too soon” to have his faculty to his home, as many of them were still getting to know him. What better reason to do it then? was his response.

My subtle suggestions went over his head. He will himself admit to being oblivious and I – the wife – can attest to that on a much more intimate level. But we’re not talking about that right now. In any case, one day I noticed that he had posted the date and time on our refrigerator, and it was clearly a done deal. He wanted me to take off from work that day. I took a half day and spent the two days before cleaning the house like Cinderella before the ball, scrutinizing every corner of the house.

It’s funny, the things you’re willing to overlook in your daily life when no one is coming over. And then a party is planned and suddenly the gray cobwebs in the cathedral ceiling that have been here since we moved in are looming large, and you see every chip in the paint, ruminate over the downstairs bathroom that has needed a renovation since time began, and rethink every décor decision you’ve ever made. I was stressed.

BUT. They came, they introduced themselves (I’d only met Wayne and an English professor I’d introduced myself to at Wayne’s event), brought wine, and graciously thanked me for opening up MY “beautiful” home to them. It wasn’t a particularly large turnout, but the folks that came were quite comfortable sitting around my kitchen island and outside on the deck, which was swarming with honey bees like we’ve never seen before. For the first time in a long time I fell back into my old shy habits, standing back and taking in their conversations from an outsider view. I was in my own home so I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I just found myself slipping into caterer mode, watching and working silently around them.

Todd’s assistant introduced herself and I said, “I’m so sorry,” and she laughed out loud, asking me if I wanted to kill him for having this event here and I laughed with her. She brought me a bottle of rose, since Todd had told her I’d become recently very fond of them. I sat outside with the group batting away bees, listening to them and realizing with surprise that some of them didn’t even know if the others had children. All told, Todd’s intent was a success.

About a week after my accident, we were invited to the President’s Circle Dinner at a nearby county club. This dinner was for all the donors to the college, and Todd was invited to be one of the speakers – presumably because he is the inaugural dean of a newly re-formed division and, as I teased him, I think the president wanted to show him off.

We arrived in a downpour and were greeted at the entry with name tags to put on and advised that seating was open. Translation: sit anywhere you want. Former shy girl doesn’t do well with this arrangement, and I was eager to find a table before everyone else sat down. We met a lovely couple at the table we chose, had lively conversation, and exchanged business cards by dinner’s end.

This was, believe it or not, the first time I’ve seen Todd speak to a large crowd. At the risk of sounding all gushy, he amazes me. He’s so good at public speaking. I was so proud, and he was not just a little bit humble when he returned to the table and asked me if it sounded okay. This is the same boy I fell in love with – the one with the earring and the leather motorcycle jacket – the quiet artist with the simmering temper, the longhaired motorhead who fixed his own cars and drove fast, and loved me intensely. And that night he stood before a crowd of 100 donors in his suit and tie and spoke like a college dean. I’m sure no one in high school would have ever predicted this outcome.

As for me, these new experiences bring my life to light, as the people we meet on these occasions are politely interested in what I do. I’ve spent more than half my life in the restaurant business desperately trying to escape. I tell them I grew up in the business and, while I don’t tell them I know I’m good at it, I say I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s time-consuming and steals precious time away from loved ones.

I’ve recognized and without shame can say that I don’t have any aspirations of some grand career – I never have, really – and it took me until the last year or so to acknowledge it without feeling like it’s wrong. I was a stay-at-home mom for a very long time. I enjoyed that. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, and the restaurant gave me the freedom to continue that after the divorce. But today I work a day job, which I love. I get to interact with people, love the people I work with, and leave the job where it belongs – in the office.

I also tell them I’m practicing a bit of old-fashioned wifery – I am here to support my husband’s new direction and look forward to the down time we get to spend together. I even have the fancy apron.

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Todd and Me in OCMD

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Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

 

Labor Day weekend went too fast and the kids went back to school on Tuesday. I feel like we’ve just boarded Roaring Rapids, without all the water because of course I have plants on the deck that are in various stages of dead. Not to discount all the rain my friends north have been dealing with and all the flooding that shut down amusement parks across the state of Pennsylvania.

It’s been a heavy rain season this summer, though unfortunately even that couldn’t save my plants. I really think only divine intervention can spare my plants from myself. Case in point: beautiful basil plant given by my mother. Weeks later: leaves are turning yellow and falling off. I have watered it regularly, but maybe it’s disheartened by the condition of the others around it?

Meanwhile, against my best judgement, Todd is hosting his faculty at our home next week and I’m about three home projects from a complete breakdown. I don’t know why I care, but I do – about the need for fresh paint, the black cobwebs in the cathedral ceilings that cannot be reached without a 20-foot ladder, the basement bathroom that needs a complete reno, not to mention the green algae on the deck that desperately needs to be power washed. I’ve spent the bulk of my summer unable to attend to this stuff, thanks to previously mentioned surgery.

Anyway, I’ll save that drama for another post. Todd and I took off for Ocean City, Maryland for the weekend – the only real vacation we got together this year due to his new job. We stayed at the lovely Dunes Manor Hotel – a Victorian-style hotel that’s been there since 1987. It’s always been my favorite but Todd hadn’t stayed there before. We only had two days – so we spent it relaxing outside, walking the boardwalk, eating at some of our favorite haunts, and drinking frozen cocktails.

We walked 8 miles on Saturday. By the time we got halfway back on the boardwalk, I could barely walk. And I was wearing flip flops – so I had a blister on my right foot, and both legs were an aching mess of jelly. I am so out of shape. Yeah – cleared, my ass. Return to normal activities slowly, they said. Listen to your body, they said. Well, my body was saying, kill me now, and my brain was saying, alcohol aint gonna save us.

Sunday we walked another seven miles – some of which was back from breakfast at Dumser’s, roughly 90 blocks away. We didn’t walk the whole way, but far enough to color my neck and chest a lovely shade of red and I got a blister on my other foot (different sandals). We took the bus the rest of the way back and rested a bit in the room. I was just about to get in the shower when the fire alarm went off – and the entire hotel was evacuated. We stayed on the seventh floor, so the walk down probably added another quarter mile. We no sooner got to the parking lot and they were letting us back in… and it was tea time! Bonus.

Todd and I grabbed some tea and scones and sat down by the grand piano, where a guest had sat down and was playing some beautiful music that made me feel suddenly like we were on the Titanic. But in a good way. His wife called him a dork and told him she was going back to the room and we all laughed.

A few minutes later he was upstaged by a teenage boy who was there to perform during tea time – playing the most beautiful renditions of Ed Sheeran’s music and onto some classic Disney tunes. I sat there thinking about time, the inevitable changes that lie ahead, and some recent news we’re still processing, and my eyes welled up.

We went to one of our favorites, Bull on the Beach at 94th street, where we bypassed the line like celebrities and headed straight to the bar and luckily found the last two empty seats. Some hot wings, a pit beef sandwich, onion rings, and two beers later and we found ourselves chatting with a couple that bought us a round when they sat down next to us. They were a bit older than us, but retired, and living in Florida. They own a house in Ocean City they rent out and come up to stay occasionally.

They were a lovely couple, and he was making friendly jokes that bordered on a little too friendly and, given the proximity to which we were sitting next to each other, my paranoid little mind began to wonder if we’d just been targeted by a pair of swingers and then I couldn’t unthink it. And Todd, clearly oblivious to the inner workings of my mind, kept up the conversation like any normal person would. And then – just as suddenly as they arrived – they finished up their food and cocktails and bid us goodnight and wished us well and… they left. And I realized how lovely they truly were – and how I need to stop thinking dirty little things about people’s intentions. (If I said this has happened to me in the past – would that exonerate me?)

We never went in the ocean. Not only did it not interest us, but there was some terrible article circulating about sea lice and the rashes it caused dozens of people. In most cases minor, but one guy had to go to hospital. They’re calling the condition Sea Bather’s Eruption but I don’t care what it is – if they’re saying that little crab larvae are just floating along with the waves and can end up INSIDE your swimsuit, well… NO THANK YOU. I made it this far in life without crabs, and I’m not about to change that…. I don’t care what kind of crabs they are.

All in all, it was a short but sweet weekend trip that we needed together. It’s all we got this summer, thanks to circumstances that were both out of our control and choices we made. I missed seeing my long-time bestie, and we didn’t take our bikes this year. There will be other weekends, other trips. Instead, we left the SUV at home and drove the “baby” GT, and hit the road like rock stars.

 

Sunrise on our last day.

Live life like you’re dying. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Every day is a gift. Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

Exit Zero: Last Days in Cape May

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Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

Tuesday Morning. Veruca picked Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for breakfast and then she was pissed when she realized we were walking there because it’s so far. We were seated immediately at a booth by the window facing the street and beach.

V had the waffle and woofed that thing down before I’d eaten half of my Denver omelet. By the way, did ya’ll know that a Denver omelet is just a Western omelet with cheese? How I lived this long and had never even heard of a Denver omelet was quite a revelation at 9:00 in the morning. And, also noteworthy, is the fact that a Western omelet in Cape May does not have tomatoes. (At the Dough Roller in OCMD they do contain tomatoes and you can’t order it without.*)

We landed the same spots by the pool as yesterday, and it wasn’t long before my bad influence of a mom was offering up cocktails before noon. Since I am my mother’s daughter, I ordered a piña colada. V had a virgin colada. Mom went with the Bloody Mary.

I spent more time on my current read – The Woman in Cabin 10 – a great fast read, by the way. More kids in the Jacuzzi and one boy climbed out the pool crying because “she pushed me in!” And I was reminded that no matter how sad I may become about my kids being teenagers, at least I can lie by the pool without dealing with this shit anymore.

At one point V hands me her colada so she can apply more sunscreen, and it slips through my fingers just as I was placing it on the table next to me. It crashes down, knocking my piña colada down too, piña coladas flying everywhere, spilling onto the ground under the table, all over mom’s necklace on the table, and into her bag… it was a piña colada explosion, and not in a good way. So mom sits up and helps with the cleanup effort, which quickly becomes another emergency after she accidentally bumps her own cocktail over and now there are THREE spilled cocktails by the pool and we’re laughing like seagulls and I swear we’re not drunk.

Anyway, the afternoon ended with lunch at the Barefoot Bar, part of the hotel and overlooking the pool. V had – surprise! – chicken fingers and fries, I had a Caesar salad, and mom had fried calamari….which she thought we’d eat too and I don’t know who she thought “we” were but I don’t eat fried rubber. I have my limits. V took her cue from me because I’m an excellent example (see Piña Colada) and wouldn’t even try it.

Tuesday evening we had decided we’d go see a movie – in a nearby town called Rio Grande, which sounds really glamorous but I didn’t see anything more glamorous than a Wawa and a couple of Wendy’s buildings impersonating sushi joints. We left two hours before the movie time to buy tickets in this ramshackle looking movie theatre in an old shopping center that looked scheduled for demolition – mom came out in shock that 3 tickets were $18.

We literally drove through the first traffic light and happened upon Rio Station – which appeared to be a locals place. It felt like a Mexican restaurant but was definitely a seafood joint with other offerings. Veruca left her go-bag* in the car, so I had to go out and get it. While I was walking back inside, my senses were accosted by the LOUDEST Latino music EVER… one, because you couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from and two, as the car got closer and closer, the decibels made your eyes water. The food was quite good. Mom shared a filet with V, and I had crab cakes over a bed of mesculin tossed in a lemon vinaigrette – which was delicious.

After, mom suggested we “drive around” a bit before the movie; I ignored her and drove straight to the movie because it was 15 minutes to show time. There was a line about 20 people long just to enter the movie we were seeing, Crazy Rich Asians. And it turned out to be “Tightwad Tuesday,” which explains the cheap tickets but 3 boxes of candy and ONE water still cost me $28. The movie was great! And contrary to outward appearances, the theatre had modern reclining seats. But I sat next to some woman who not only threw her handbag into the seat next to me like she was slam-dunking a basketball, but laughed loudly at every single thing that was funny and I remembered why I hate going to the movies.

We drove all the way back to the hotel and parked the car a block away (because there’s limited parking) and realized that V left her go-bag in the movie theatre twenty minutes away. I read her the riot act in the parking lot, and drove all the way back, in the rain, to retrieve it.

The only good thing to come out of it was that when we got back, there was an open parking spot right in front of the hotel. Which a seagull decided to shit on, on the day we left. And before you tell me it could’ve been worse, like mom did, I direct you to last summer’s air strike in OCMD. You’re not helping.

*******

Last day… Wednesday. Breakfast at the hotel again. Different cook – decided to gamble on the omelet and it was cooked to perfection. We revisited the pool, had more piña coladas that did not spill this time, ate leftovers for lunch, and went back to the room for a nap. V slept briefly; mom was out cold about an hour in; I was wide awake. I don’t DO naps. I started Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain and sat out on the balcony (my favorite thing), listening to the ac unit kick on and off and the dog two floors below us that barked at every dog that walked by.

V and I took a walk on the beach around 5:30, listened to the sounds of the Beach Bumz’ free concert drifting over the breeze and crashing waves, and I snapped some gorgeous photos of her in that beautiful late afternoon light. I started this tradition with her a few years back of taking that walk at sunrise, but this year we both agreed we didn’t “need” to see the sun rise.

We collected some shells and talked about stuff that’s really important when you’re 13, and I counted every minute as a blessing. To say that I am acutely aware of the preciousness of time with my kids right now, is an understatement. At some point, as we stood by the water looking back at the hotel, I saw mom on the balcony so we waved our arms like we were at a Jimmy Buffett concert and she waved back.

The three of us decided to walk to the end of Beach Avenue* for the sunset, which was (insert Veruca) a really long walk. The two of them stopped in the restroom along the way, while I sat on the bench and sent Todd a selfie. A minute later mom popped her head out the door and waved a black handbag at me she said someone had left in there. What should she do?

This is MY MOM asking ME what she should do with a found handbag. I don’t know! Leave it there – the person may retrace her steps to find it again. Like, how are you asking me this? You’re my mom. Moms are supposed to already know the answer.

So we began walking again and she told me it was filled with tampons, and all I could think of was that someone must be having a really bad day about now, until it dawned on me that she’d looked inside and why did she do that? Looking for ID, natch.

And then we finally get to the end of the street where people are already gathered to watch the sunset when a strange man approached V and me…and when I turned toward him I must’ve looked like I was going to kill him because he put his hands up sheepishly and then I felt like a real asshole when he told me he was from Cape May’s Kiwanis Club and wanted to know if V wanted to participate in lowering and folding the flag at sunset.

These are the moments when you know you’ve raised your kids right. If I had asked her to do this, she’d have hissed at me and given me the Italian look of death. But she smiled angelically at this man and said, sure! I won’t bore you with the details, only to mention that she was one of four chosen – the others were a sweet girl with Down’s who knew this routine better than the Kiwanis guys, and 6-year-old twin boys who were clearly in over their head (and so was the man who picked them).

This whole thing delayed dinner by an hour and a half, but V got a certificate and a flag pin and I texted my dad to share the event (he used to be in Kiwanis). He was proud to know kids are still learning about the value of our flag, and then sent me a video/sound clip of the smoky herb-y drum circle he was hearing from his hotel room somewhere in upstate New York. Sometimes he has all the fun.

V chose the restaurant – YB – a very small, darkened but chic little restaurant on Beach Avenue between Perry and Jackson Streets. She saw the Mac & Cheese Poppers and was sold. And, I will say, they were the best I’ve ever had, hands down. Made fresh with jalapeños, fried and then baked with stewed tomatoes. I had a chicken dish that was delicious, though it was so dark in there it was hard to know exactly what I was eating (though at 9:00 it hardly mattered). Mom had a stuffed pepper (also delicious) and the Greek salad – a real Greek salad, not some American knock-off with lettuce.**

*******

*The famous Dough Roller in Ocean City, Maryland serves western omelets with tomatoes. You cannot order the western omelet without tomatoes, because it’s premixed. Therefore, you must order each of the ingredients of said omelet a la carte, which costs more than the western omelet (with one less ingredient).

*The Go-Bag is a must for Type 1s to carry: inside you will find a glucose meter, extra test strips, glucose tabs, pump supplies and extra batteries for pump and meter, glucagon, and snacks/candy.

*The best known destination for sunsets in Cape May is Sunset Beach, and the view is every bit spectacular. However, you have to drive there, and try to park, and every other time I’ve gone it felt like a race against time.

** Y.B. – short for Younger Brother – is helmed by the younger brother of John, who owns George’s Place up the street. However, despite the subordinate implication, Pete has had quite a decorated career for a “young” chef:  he worked at Buddakan, Le Bec Fin, and Prive, and was executive chef of Brasserie Perrier. He’s also appeared on the Food Network’s Chopped and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. (We knew none of this when we dined there.)

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The missing Do Not Disturb sign?   Copyright Taraka & Tara Chronicles 2018

 

 

 

The Way to Cape May

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Copyright Taraka & The Tara Chronicles 2018

Last week was the annual “Nannie trip” to the beach that, now that Opac has apparently aged out of vacations with granny, has become the annual Girls’ Beach Trip. Sunday afternoon my mom, Veruca, and I set sail for Cape May by way of everyone’s favorite highway – I95. Mom likes to use Siri and her iPhone for directions while I am using my car’s GPS – and then we argue about which one is correct. This usually ends with Siri informing me to “watch your language.”

On a completely not unrelated side note, Siri follows me on Twitter. Well, not Siri, but Susan Bennett aka Siriously Susan. I was siriously excited about this. I mentioned it to mom and she said Siri isn’t a real person, and I’m all like – YES SHE IS. This trend of disagreeing with each other isn’t new, but has definitely picked up in my middle age. Which takes me back to a discrepancy between Siri and my GPS, where my GPS told me to stay in the right lanes, and Siri said stay left. There was a small commotion in the passenger seat, and then suddenly my GPS told me to get off at the next exit, which turned out to be a turnaround-and-back-on the same highway. Mom was only a little bit triumphant.

Anyway, as I’m already 200 words in and haven’t even gotten to our destination yet, let’s jump ahead. We arrived in Cape May shortly after 5 p.m. This year we stayed at the Marquis de Lafayette, “America’s oldest seaside resort…. Since 1885.” The World Famous Congress Hall was built in 1816, and its website calls it “America’s oldest/first seaside resort.” I’m not very good at math, and I don’t want to sound judgy, but somebody is clearly wrong here.

So our room. Outside hallway. Seaside, white wicker décor, soft gray walls, white bedspreads, balcony facing the beach. And then there’s the bathroom. Small pedestal sink with a white framed mirror above, both are Alice-in-Wonderland askew – the sink is tilted downward on the left, the mirror tilted right – and for me, a self-inflicted perfectionist who couldn’t NOT see that every time I sat on the toilet, it made me nuts.

Somewhat less worrisome but not without its own concerns, was the double bed I shared with V – which was lopsided. I had this recurrent fear of V rolling off in the middle of the night. This didn’t happen. However, she is clearly accustomed to sleeping in much roomier conditions (translation: alone), and so there was a lot of bed hogging and one really scary arm fling that narrowly missed my face. I didn’t sleep well. Aside from the usual blood sugar checks during the night, there were the ongoing issues of cramped quarters and the snaggletooth snorer.

First night tradition is dinner at Godmother’s, a lovely little Italian restaurant. It’s BYOB so we picked up a bottle of wine beforehand. This year’s selection: Fleur de Mer Côtes du Provence Rosé. I think I picked this up on our last trip two years ago… it’s excellent. Veruca chose linguini with white clam sauce, mom had the red version, and I went with a seafood risotto with scallops, all-lump crab, Applewood smoked bacon, fresh corn, and heirloom red and yellow tomatoes. KILL-ER. Even V loved it (she’s not a fan of crab).

We stopped by the front desk back at the hotel for a Do Not Disturb sign, which was missing from our room. We promptly hung it on the door. The next morning it was gone.

We ate breakfast at the hotel… a buffet and made-to-order omelets and waffles. I had a spinach and feta omelet that was a bit runny, but I tipped the cook anyway. V had pancakes and an enormous plate of bacon because – all you can eat. I have always imagined that bittersweet moment when one realizes their parents are aging and on this morning I witnessed my mother, in that true senior rite of passage, pocketing creamers like a boss. (Okay so she was really taking them back to the room for our Keurig coffee.)

We spent the rest of the morning/early afternoon by the pool, near the Jacuzzi which, it turned out, was a mecca for the under-10 set, and the water is suspiciously green. No parents, just the children, and three days later I was convinced they just drop the kids in the Jacuzzi and forget about them for a while. But I had to watch these little devils jumping off the side wall into the pool below with little regard for their lives or those below. Okay, I didn’t have to watch, but my peripheral vision is still pretty sharp. One boy, about 4, announced LOUDLY to his sibling – “the bubbles make your wiener feel weird.” Highlight of my day.

The Marquis is quite literally a block away from the Washington Street Mall – a quaint outdoor shopping and dining area in the heart of Victorian Cape May, paved with brick and studded with trees. We shopped here after lunch at the Rusty Nail next the Beach Shack – steamers in a white wine and garlic broth (my favorite thing!), crab cake sandwich-no-bun, and a grilled chicken quesadilla the size of New Jersey. We had ice cream at Kohr Bros later and then none of us was hungry for dinner.

I bought V a cute romper that was actually a large (I have no idea why), and some jewelry for me. I’m on the hunt to replace a thumb ring I lost at the bowling alley on The Last Night of the season (really). Never found one, but I did buy two pairs of earrings and a bracelet. I never do stuff like this for myself. It’s fairly liberating. If you haven’t, try it.

So we went back to the room and decided to settle in for the night. We covered a lot of ground on the first day, literally, and – after only 4 hours of sleep – I was drifting slowly toward the wall. I sat out on the balcony – which turned out to be a very noisy place – to call Todd and catch up.

A few minutes go by, and V came out with a magazine held like a tray, with Ritz crackers topped with slices of cheese. Another minute later, mom came out with a glass of wine. Todd and I kept talking. V came back with a cup of microwave popcorn. Then mom appeared with the bottle of wine to top me off. It was just like being rich. Well, if that’s what rich people do.

Kind of an anticlimactic end to the day, but it was much needed downtime before we took on the next two days.

After

Today is day 9. There’s a boa constrictor wrapped around my neck, and the muscles are tight around my cervical spine. Do I feel better than last Saturday? I’m going to say yes. Todd said I’d forget the pain at some point, and I do think he’s right. Last Saturday I was 24 hours into recovery and I remember thinking I f**king hate this. Never again.

I went in for surgery on Friday the 22nd at 6:30 a.m. I was back in pre-op in no time and my nurse, Stephanie, was kind and patient and introduced me to Buffy, the venipuncture slayer. Seriously, Buffy made me nervous at first, the way she kept slapping at the veins on my wrist while Stephanie collected the exact same data I’d given three different people by phone in the last seven days. This was probably a lame attempt to distract me from Buffy’s overtures, but Buffy’s tapping and slapping left me feeling quite unconfident in her abilities.

I have big veins. I mean big, juicy veins that aren’t difficult to tap. Was she blind? Unsure? A trainee? OMG. Anyway, she popped that IV in like a mosquito and Stephanie turned around and said, wow, you didn’t even flinch. And Let Me Tell You. A week later and you still can’t see where that IV was. Buffy IS the Boss.

A minute later this man who appeared to be in his late 50s popped into my room and said, “boo!” And of course, I’m like, WTF? Who is this dude? He warmly introduced himself as my anesthesiologist, and assured me he’s done so many of these, for 500- er- he’s even put dinosaurs to sleep. He also remarked that I looked like a deer in the headlights. My neuroses clearly is not easy to conceal. Buffy started cleansing my neck until it turned beet red and apparently a reaction ensued, so the two of them decided I’d had enough. He told me he could give me something to relax me, but only after I’d spoken with the PA or the surgeon or both.

Documents to sign, giving them permission to cut me open, put me to sleep, do whatever they do to save your life, etc. And then Todd was brought back, who is always full of funny anecdotes that AREN’T funny when your nerves are as bad as mine.

I laid in the bed with a pillow behind my head for support, because the position itself was painful as always. I was ready a full hour before my surgery was scheduled and trying not to flip out. I remembered this pain I was feeling, and considered that it would be gone when I woke up again. Todd snapped a photo of me in the bed for my mom, so I gave my best bitch face that I knew would get a giggle from her (she knows me well). I’m so NOT a good patient. I’m better than I used to be, but some things go like teaching an old dog new tricks.

The neuro-technologist (because I don’t remember her exact title) came in to discuss the surgery with me, starting with the standard questions. I told her my name, and the surgery I’m having – breast implants. She stopped reading my chart and stared at me momentarily, and then back to the chart. I gave it a beat or two more and said, I’m just kidding. I’m having two discs replaced in my cervical spine. I needed the break more than she did obviously, but she took it in stride and said that’s never happened before, laughed a little while I clarified the REAL surgery and then I secretly prayed she wouldn’t hurt me while I was knocked out. Her job is to test my nerve conduction during the surgery to make sure all is well. And I have the bruises on both arms and one shoulder to show for it. But they don’t hurt.

The PA came in and explained the surgery, went over recovery procedures and medications, etc. and then Dr. Dinosaur returned with his vial of nirvana and that hit me so fast I said, whooooaaaa. And then it was time to go.

Second time for me in an OR, and it’s always surreal. Lots of movement and faceless people, and then there’s the mask over your face and then suddenly I’m coughing like a drowning victim. I’m assuming that was the moment I was extubated. Dr. Dinosaur placed a hand on my shoulder and told me to relax.

Todd said the surgery lasted 2 and a half hours, during which he got a very important call I will share in a later post. I started the waking process in the PACU, where my right arm felt like Grendel was pulling it out of its socket and my legs felt like they were disconnecting from my body. My new nurse, Sharon, asked me my pain level. NINE. Dilaudid to the rescue. I have no idea of time passing, but I felt more lucid by the time we hit a five. She refused to give me more because she thought I stopped breathing several times (an alarm would sound), until I assured her I am NOT sleeping and that it’s my MO to hold my breath when pain is really intense. So, we spent the next several hours with her reminding me to breathe through it or else. (No more pain meds.)

I can’t say enough about my experience at this hospital*. Everyone was very caring, gentle, and they didn’t push me out like we had experienced with Todd’s surgery last summer at an affiliated hospital. They did encourage me to move to a “chair” and out of the bed, where I turned white and felt a violent wave of nausea that turned out to be gas. I guess burping is a side effect of anesthesia? Sharon mentioned I hadn’t been to the bathroom since awakening, and I told her that I’ve actually had to go since I woke up, but was afraid to ask. (Bad patients don’t like bed pans.) So Tara assisted me to the bathroom – I chose to walk – and informed me she had to come in with me. I didn’t give a rat’s ass who was in there with me.

Funny how life and maturity changes you, and your views on modesty. I was ready to go afterward, and the two nurses helped me dress (but kept Todd outside the curtain AS IF he’d never seen his wife naked before) and I was soon being wheeled to the curb by a nice man who said he was getting over pneumonia, which seemed wrong on some level but I was in no position to argue with anyone.

The ride home was uneventful and not painful. And the rest of Friday was lost to fits of sleep and well wishes, one son who announced that I looked like shit, and a phone call from Veruca who had been terribly worried. I took one Oxycontin that night, and continued to feel awful until the next morning, when I threw up. I DO NOT do narcotics. So, my recovery this week has been punctuated by frequent walks around the house, belching, muscle relaxers, a steroid for alleviating swallowing issues, and extra strength Tylenol.

I’ve been out twice – once with mom driving me to the pharmacy and grocery store in my collar of shame that scared small children; and yesterday to the bank where one of the tellers exclaimed, “holy shit!” which made my day and I burst out laughing.

It’s day 9. I’m still waking in some significant neck pain, but the pain my upper back and shoulders and right arm is all but gone. I understand that some pain will linger as the nerves reassert themselves under these new conditions. I had this pain in my right elbow (painful even to the touch) that was terrible for months that I was treating as tennis elbow, though nothing helped. I woke up last Friday and it WAS GONE.

I still feel like someone has their hands wrapped around my throat. I try to be patient, but it’s annoying and uncomfortable, and causes me nausea. I can’t bend over, as it puts pressure against my throat. I can’t look directly down. I’m still getting tired easily.

But, I did it. This is the After. And every day the After is getting better. I can swim after my 6-week post-op, when summer will be more than half over, but I’m doing it. And I made Todd measure me, because the neurosurgeon said the discs he implanted are going to stretch my neck a bit, which is causing the muscles around it to stretch and strain. I gained an INCH. I am an INCH taller than I was last Friday. How about that?

 

*University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center

**I cannot take full credit for the breast implant joke. Todd made a remark while we were waiting in pre-op that “at least you’re not getting breast implants.” Which I still don’t know why he thought was funny, but when the neuro person came in, the procedure just flew out of my mouth. And Todd looked at me appalled, that I’d stolen his joke that not 10 minutes before I refused to laugh at.

 

Destination Syracuse : Bowling, Irish Cannonballs, and Flying Monkeys

Presently in surgery. Please enjoy this ramshackle post in my absence.

Another road trip. Another bowling tournament. We stayed at the Genesee Grand Hotel. It was lovely: a beautiful lobby, Koi pond, and revolving doors, which I always use whenever they present themselves.  Except when I tried to drag my suitcase in with me. That made things a little tight, if not awkward, but thankfully no one was looking. Except Todd, who is well used to my shenanigans.

Our room was small but comfortable, and the bathroom was beautifully tiled in sparkling marble. We dropped our bags and changed clothes, and headed over to the convention center (where the National Bowling Tournament was) to check in. Apparently there was an issue about Todd – either whose membership number was in question and/or he wasn’t on the team roster. This looked to me like another one of those clusterfuck-type situations, and so I looked at my loving husband and asked him why he failed to mention this snafu to me.

(I was only mildly pissed that we might have yet another problem with something, because it’s always something, and I was still seething over the fact that he had no idea what times he was bowling until I asked him to find out. And it turned out that the expected usual 8 a.m. bowling times were instead 11 a.m. Tuesday and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, putting us on the road quite well after dinner that night.)

We got it all straightened out, but not before the team captain came to rectify the situation and then Kathy wiped out on the escalator as we were leaving and thank God there were two men behind her to help her back up and she didn’t die. Seriously scared the bejesus out of me.

Todd and I ended up at The Kitty Hoynes Irish Pub for a late snack and beer. It’s the quintessential Irish Pub, all wood bar and carved back bar – the whole thing square-shaped with ample seating but two walls come into the center, lending it a very intimate arrangement. There is seating in the back of the restaurant, and a banquette with little cocktail tables and little stools for seating. Todd ordered a pint of Smithwick and I had Threes Brewing Logical Conclusion, which was a divinely citrusy IPA without the bitter back end. Ordered the Irish Charcuterie and Reuben Fritters (aka Irish Cannonballs); both were delicious and just the right amount of food for a late night bite.

Like any trip where we rush out the door, we forgot deodorant, my Tylenol Extra Strength tablets that are worth shit anyway, a jacket/hoodie/anything long-sleeved for the meat locker at the tournament and, most importantly, my meds. And this was so not the time to be without them for THREE days. I planned to be alcohol-free, but this horrific oversight was going to have to be remedied the only other way I know how. But – ya’ll’d be proud of me. I drank modestly, only at dinner, and only with food.

Day 2

The tournament. Teams. After a half hour or so of coffee in the cozy lobby, we get to the tournament and meet the crew. Everybody has to have their balls weighed. (Bowling balls, you fools.) Todd bought me a bright pink hoodie, and it was soon time to go find a seat in the stands and he went back to the waiting area. The oiling machines are like giant Roombas, except that instead of picking up dirt they oil the lanes. And then… the music started.

Imagine Dragons, Whatever It Takes… and the bowling teams start strutting out onto the floor in front of the lanes in a single file, and it was like we were at the fucking World Cup and these athletes were rock stars. Some of them were mouthing the words of the song, some were wearing sunglasses, some were waving their fist, … one guy was waving his bowling ball (in the sack) over his head, which seemed a little dangerous to me. Man down! Before the tournament would even start.

After the tournament everybody decided they wanted to go to Dinosaur BBQ, though all I really wanted was a salad. There were 9 of us and parking was a bear. We sat at three separate tables and, it turned out, one check.  The waitress sat my glass down on the table with her fingers inside it. When we ordered, I suggested Betty go first, and the waitress told me to go first. Mildly shocked at the Rude.

We all parted ways afterward, heading back to our hotels for a nap. I put on my collar of shame (as instructed to relieve pain I’m currently having) and left it on to enter the hotel and noticed how quickly the bellman jumped to open the door for me. Which made me feel alternately guilty and ridiculous.

Todd and I decided to go to the Yellow Brick Road Casino, in a little town called Chittenango where – it so happens – the author of the Wizard of Oz was born. It was small but whimsically fun… the Flying Monkey Bar had flying monkeys dangling from the ceiling. And the slots were paying out for Todd. I was being obstinently patient while he moved from one machine to another, until I hit a wall after 10 with no food in my stomach and barely a sip of water all day.

We returned to Kitty Hoynes but were late to dinner – so that there was a limited bar menu and even more limited IPA selection. They were sold out of Logical Conclusion (so upset!) and then two more I ordered they were also out of. Asked the bartender, so what DO you have? And he disappeared to attend to other guests while I perused the draft menu, and … didn’t come back for a good 20 minutes. If not for the late hour, we very nearly walked out. Eventually we got him to warm up and he was ever so friendly and somewhat more attentive… which, by the way, is NOT the way it’s supposed to work with bartenders.

Day 3

In retrospect, I’m beginning to wonder if the New York attitude creeps this far north of the city. It was bizarre, how standoffish the service was, everywhere we went. Except for Mom’s Diner, where we went for breakfast Wednesday morning. A small little spot on the corner of a well-worn street, where you order at the counter and they bring your food to the table when it’s ready. The four folks there were warm and friendly and the food was great.

We killed time at Destiny USA – which does not sound like a monstrous shopping mall with 3 floors of shopping, dining, and play. With the trend of malls going down over time, this one seems to be holding its own.

Back to the convention center for singles and doubles. Another freezing cold event and this time I carried my blanket in with me. And I wasn’t the only one. We were scheduled to start at 2:30 but by 2:35 there were still bowlers from the morning roster still finishing up. Our group didn’t start until after 3, and all I could think of was how late we were going to get home.

This day’s fight song was The Champion by Carrie Underwood ft. Ludacris. It’s funny how they all walk in like these great badasses of bowling. I watched a little, got up a few times to stretch (the pain is intense at times and the only relief is movement), dove into my journal and wrote 5 pages, and then cracked open my newest book.*

We were finally on the road by 7. I was beyond stressed and fighting back a complete mental breakdown from lack of meds and off-the-charts anxiety that kept me awake every night, and pain that returned with a vengeance just in time for the five-hour ride home. But we did it. We made it home in FOUR hours and for the first time in my life I was never happier to see our old hometown’s name on a highway sign, even though it meant we were still an hour from home.

*My latest book: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.  National Bestseller. Although I’m only 65 pages in, highly recommend.

Before

T-minus 18 hours and 55 minutes, as of this writing. I’ve had multiple phone calls from the hospital to update my information, my medications, my instructions, my expectations…. All of which are designed to help everyone else do their job while my anxiety tops charts unseen since the summer of ’13.

ICYMI: I’m having artificial cervical disc replacement of C5/6 and 6/7 tomorrow morning. I have inconsolable (I like this analogy) pain in my neck, shoulders, upper back, wrapping around my rotator cuffs, and radiating down both arms and hands from time to time. It has been previously thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome. I would like to suggest at this time that this is perhaps NOT the case at all. I am currently feeling a radiating ache down my right leg that affects the back of my knee and the entire calf muscle. Pain right now: Five. Anxiety: Seven.

But enough about that! Surgery is tomorrow, where they cut a one-to-two inch incision in the front of my neck and remove the damaged discs and pop in two new ones. Easy-peasy, right? I’d like to think so, but my anxiety is a demon sitting on my shoulder whispering all the thoughts I should not think. It didn’t help that the PA played me an animated video of the surgery while we waited for the surgeon, so that is an image that I go to bed with every night. It’s affecting my sleep. I think they should ask the patient if they want to see it, rather than just assume we do. Some of us don’t want to know. Just fix it.

In calmer moments, I remember the signs I’ve received that are meant to comfort me. I believe in a God who knows I have so much more to do and two children and a husband (who we all know is very independent but I know he can’t or won’t do it without me) who need me to be here. I have the most wonderful angels I know will be there to comfort and watch over me. Yeah, I’m not a little spiritual and maybe a bit nuts. But ya’ll love me that way, or you wouldn’t still be reading.

My aunt is, at this very moment, in her own surgery, on her back. She was not doing well yesterday, and mom suggested I call her and I said, what the hell do you think I’M going to be able to say to her? But call her I did, and she and I commiserated about our shared anxieties and physiological problems with pain meds stronger than ibuprofen, and realized we both had the same plan for the-day-before of ironing clothes that are piling up.

So, per my previous post:

We had last days of school. The Last Day was optional/an excused absence for those who didn’t go. Opac stayed home and slept until sometime after 12:30. Veruca went to school to see her bestie and they walked to McDonald’s after to have lunch together. This was huge, as she fully expected me to say no as I have in the past. It was even huge-r that her bestie was allowed to go. She is Mexican, and culturally speaking, her parents are very protective of her. She hasn’t been to our house in the 5 years that our girls have been best friends, and isn’t allowed to birthday parties. One of my coworkers, who is also Mexican, has told me of similar experiences with her mom and her personal freedom.

V missed her endo appointment thanks to traffic on a major route that left us sitting still for almost 20 minutes. Had to reschedule and went shopping instead (it was right there). I have to say that I enjoy a good trip to TJMaxx, but this day was absolutely the worst selection I have seen in years. The clothes looked like a bad cross-dresser’s delight, or maybe a Good Will store in Florida.

We went to Ulta and spent way too much on makeup for her, but I’m not sorry. She has vitiligo on her face, and we were shopping for a quality product that offered good blending coverage without an all-over foundation.

Pre-op appointment was uneventful. I’m assuming my CBC is good and I’m not pregnant since the surgery is proceeding as planned. I picked up my collar of shame on Monday morning before our road trip because they wanted me to have it before surgery. This is NOT the soft collar I thought I’d be wearing. It looks more like an instrument of torture, and it is not flattering to my face. My face looks like one of those bloated fish you see hanging from the ceiling of seafood restaurants. Can’t wait to selfie that look tomorrow.

Bestie and I went on a girls’ day out adventure with plenty of laughs and some shopping. We made verbal non-disclosure agreements, so I cannot say anything more than … we had so much fun. Sorry. What happens in Spencer’s, stays in Spencer’s.

Todd and I had a quiet 6-year anniversary. We bought the edging stones I wanted for our front gardens, almost all of which he placed for me and it looks great. I weeded a bit. We went out for a quick dinner at the local Mexican restaurant and sat outside on the deck in the beautiful weather with a margarita. Saw our lovely neighbors at the next table, because we’re a small town and everybody goes there. Came home and sat outside, burning citronella, had one more margarita, and decided to relieve my pain in the hot tub.

Todd and I went to Syracuse, New York for the National Bowling Tournament Monday and returned last night around 11 p.m. Working on a post for that – which I’ll schedule for release tomorrow.

See ya’ll After. Peace out.

 

 

 

The Scene of the Crime: Wilkes Barre, PA

This year’s PA State Bowling Tournament was held in another sparkling Pennsylvania metropolis: Wilkes Barre.

Wilkes Barre is in the coal mining region of PA, and part of the fourth largest statistical metropolitan area: Scranton-Wilkes Barre-Hazelton. It’s out there in that area that used to give me intense, unexplained anxiety when driving near or through it… most likely because of its far-away-from-everything, not close enough to the city for me, feeling. (City girl, reporting for duty.)

I would like to point out at this time that I have seen more of Pennsylvania in the four years I’ve lived in Maryland than I did when I lived there. I’ve seen Scranton once for a tournament, and once was enough. I’ve been to Erie, where sightseeing was washed out by rain all weekend. I’ve been to Pittsburgh, which I wrote a post about, and where the only Falling Water we saw was the rain both days.

Anyway, I’m in charge of hotels so I booked us at the Holiday Inn Express again (The Pittsburgh one was very nice). We had a nice room at the end of the hall. Room appointments were modern and clean; the toilet paper roll was mounted under the sink such that you couldn’t see it, and I decided not to tell Todd where it was and wait to see if he’d figure it out.

We didn’t arrive until after 11 p.m. Todd googled places to eat and chose Bar Louie – Google Maps took us to a rundown-looking warehouse that was dark and clearly NOT a bar. We ended up going to the Mohegan Sun Casino around the corner: a really nice, albeit smoky, casino with a number of eating establishments inside. We each got a slice of pizza – which was really really good.

As I feared, Todd wanted to check out the casino. He only wanted to check it out. And that’s when we found Bar Louie – which is located inside the casino.

Saturday morning 6:30 a.m. came too early, but the bed was remarkably comfortable and I noted that my neck and back didn’t hurt when I woke up. We grabbed the complimentary breakfast downstairs with our bowling friends, and were soon off to the tournament. It was a gorgeous day on Saturday, and I had googled Wilkes Barre earlier in the week for “things to do in” and “places to eat.”

So. After the tournament we drove around a bit and discovered a Catholic church which seems to have risen out of the ashes of a working class neighborhood and closed down factories. Took some photos. The front doors were open and service was going, but I was too timid to walk up the steps. In Catholic churches I’m always afraid I’ll be discovered as a runaway Catholic.

20180505_121751

St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, founded 1855

We did some shopping afterward… someone in a Facebook group had posted a pic of a metal chicken she found in Ross, so I was on a mission. Didn’t find one, but I did buy a galvanized tub and a smaller galvanized utensils holder that I plan to use for an herb garden on my deck.

After a quick lunch, we drove to Seven Tubs Recreational Park (my #1 Google find). Our bowling mates opted out so it was serendipitously ours alone. Well, ours … with about two dozen other people with way more appropriate footwear for the occasion. But I didn’t care. It was beautiful. Wheelbarrow Run is a stream that runs down through the landscape, having cut its way through bedrock and creating several potholes or “tubs” through which the water cascades down like a waterfall.

We took a ton of pictures, walked the trails a while, found some troll doors, and I collected miniature pine cones the size of a dime. We clocked close to 12,000 steps on our fitness trackers.

All photos copyright TKA and The Tara Chronicles, 2018

We returned to the hotel to clean up and made plans to go to a bar/restaurant on my list with our group. I had three in mind, but the winner (and truly was the winner) was Elmer Sudds… a small, corner neighborhood bar with a few tables along the wall and an L-shaped bar with plenty of seating for our crowd. The bartender, Dave, gave us a warm, enthusiastic welcome as we warned him there were going to be more than just the four of us who had just arrived.

The walls were lined with tap handles; however, what was on tap was limited to a handful, which was fine for us. The hot wings were killer. Todd and I bought t-shirts (Elmer Sudds – The Thirst Awakens) and finagled an Elmer Sudds pint glass for our collection for $15. It was worth it. We played darts, which I haven’t done in over 30 years and actually hit a bullseye which didn’t count because that’s not what I was supposed to do. I don’t understand scoring at all.

Photos copyright TKA & The Tara Chronicles, 2018

Our group split in two and the Holiday Inn crew went to the casino. I sat down next to Todd with the five dollar bill I’d found in my pocket, dropped it in the machine and two minutes later I had $11. I kissed my gambler and told him I was taking my winnings to the Bar Louie, which at this point was bursting at the seams.

Found two empty seats at the bar next to the service station and ordered a beer. I posted in our group text that “Tara is at Bar Louie” and my exact location. Stan was the only one who answered, saying that he “saw her on her way in” and that he would head over in a bit. I told him it was me, and that sometimes I refer to myself in the 3rd person, you know, just to keep things interesting.

I watched the 5 bartenders struggling to keep up with about 40 people around the bar, which seemed ridiculous to me, and flagged one for the guy behind me who couldn’t get anyone’s attention because I’m nice like that. There’s only so much drinking one can watch and so much trying-not-to-judge-service one who has grown up in the business (yet continues to avoid being a part of) can witness…. so I posted something on Facebook about being a middle-aged woman in a bar full of millennials. I was thisclose to starting up a conversation with the guy next to me when Todd suddenly, happily appeared. We left shortly after.

Sunday morning. Woke again with no pain initially, but feeling the effects of what was my last night of drinking for a long while. Chris was texting Todd about when we were coming down to breakfast and I was feeling like I was the holdup when we finally got there, and he had the audacity to tease me about it and then a half hour later WE were waiting for HIM so we could leave for the bowling alley.

The pain I’m currently in thanks to two levels of cervical discs pressing on my spinal cord started to kick in and I sat in the bowling alley by myself waiting for Brenda and Chris to show up and tried to ignore it.

Then Todd asked me if I could get him a cup of ice water. Simple enough request – he always gets a large cup of ice water at the bowling alleys. And here follows my meltdown over a cup of water at 9 a.m. on church day.

***OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE WARNING***

I walked up to the counter and asked for it, and was told that they can’t give me ice water. And I’m like, you’re kidding, right? And then this other woman walks up and says that “that’s why we have water fountains” and offers me a DIXIE CUP that my husband can fill up himself. Oh. My. GOD. He was SO not going to be happy about this, and I was SO not feeling up to Bullshit at 9 a.m. with radiating cervical spine pain and a wee bit of a hangover.

I told her this won’t work and I asked if there were water bottles/vending machines, but she didn’t bother to tell me where but I found them on my own, put my last two dollars in the machine and…. the fucking bottle got stuck in the machine. And now I’m literally swearing at myself in front of the vending machine and afraid to walk away from it and have someone else score my bottle, not to mention what I might say if I had to go back to that counter. Eventually it came out and I stalked back to Todd in a selfish tantrum and handed him the bottle, and told him it was the best he was going to get.

His raised eyebrow opened the door and … apparently they don’t give out fucking water here but it’s okay to sell people SODA in those fucking cups. WTF? They can’t give me fucking ice water! But – oh! There’s a fucking water fountain where you can get water if you want it. IN a DIXIE CUP!

At this point I looked around me and noticed three older ladies sitting right there staring at me, and suddenly I felt like a complete asshole. So I said, I’m so sorry for the language. I’m so sorry.

And Todd snapped back that he’s trying to concentrate on his game and this isn’t helping. I said, you’re right, and took my tantrum outside and sat in the car in a self-imposed timeout for over an hour. Texted my bestie about it and commiserated about women who piss us off, until I realized I had to pee something fierce. And then her telling me to damn, just go back in there, and me being obstinate about it.

Long story short, I went back in. I peed. Todd was tentatively happy to see me, in an are-you-safe-to-talk-to sort of way and then he told me how the cup of water story ended after I left. He went to the manager, who turned out to be the bitch who told me to use a water fountain, and told her this wasn’t leagues – this is a STATE TOURNAMENT – and they don’t have time to walk away to use a water fountain. She relented and there it was – that lovely large white Styrofoam cup filled with ice water and the blood of a tired wife who doesn’t need any early morning bullshit in a loud bowling alley – sitting on the table next to Todd.

Our original five decided to grab lunch before the drive home, and this time I had no suggestions and so we went with the others’ suggestion of Longhorn Steakhouse because they all wanted steak. NOT my first choice, but, I’d already bitched enough for the day and it was only 1:00 so I decided to just go with it. Todd and I ordered some apps and made do, but the food wasn’t going down right for me and the pain I was in amped up to a 7 or 8. We were soon homeward bound, a difficult ride, but we made it.

 

Betcha didn’t know:

There is an ongoing debate on the pronunciation of Wilkes Barre. Born and raised in PA, and having attending college for two years in central PA, we always referred to it as Wilkes “berry,” or “barry.” Others call it Wilkes “bar,” or Wilkes “bear.” I asked a local, who assured me they’re all acceptable.

A number of “famous” people hail from Wilkes Barre: Several NFL players … and most notably Michael Schoeffling, the actor who played Jake Ryan in Sixteen Candles, and David Evans, the Hollywood director known for The Sandlot.

It is said that Babe Ruth hit the longest home run in history at Artillery Park in Wilkes Barre – at an estimated 650 feet – on October 12, 1926.

Planters Peanut Company was founded here in 1906 by Italian immigrants Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi, where it maintained headquarters until 1961.

In 1972, 365 subscribers of the Service Electric Cable company were the first to receive HBO, making Wilkes Barre the birthplace of modern cable.

Hurricane Agnes, which pummeled eastern PA in 1972, caused the mighty Susquehanna river to rise to over 41 feet, flooding downtown Wilkes Barre with 9 feet of water. Nearly 400, 000 homes and structures were destroyed.

*source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilkes-Barre,_Pennsylvania

 

 

Where I’ve Been – April 2018

I haven’t written anything in while. No shortage of inspiration, but definitely a shortage of time and motivation.

I have been having terrible neck pain and, it having been three months since my last visit to the chiropractor, I returned two days a week and was set to begin PT again. The neck pain is NOT better. It’s getting worse and it’s radiating. I went back to the neurosurgeon after four years, and am going for an MRI this week. This is not good news, but it’s also not bad news.

Meanwhile, Veruca is knee-deep in sports again, in what could easily be the coldest April in history. Opening Day was 39 degrees and windy, walking the parade route to the fields and then standing out there listening to the yada yada about who worked hard at this and who worked hard at that and thank you very much and opening invocation and the first pitch. Blah. Blah. Blah. I froze my ass off. I took the day off from work for that. And V didn’t even have a game that day.

Her first game was three days later, and it was snowing. Flakes were landing on the blanket I had over my legs and melting on contact.

While we’re talking about V, I have to also mention how in awe I am of her. She joined a running club after school and ran [an estimated] 9.28 mile – faster than my PR at my most fit (117lbs and running three-four days a week) where I medaled in my second 5k. She is a great athlete. And she’s smart. She made honor roll again this 3rd quarter. And she’s beautiful. All I do lately is stare at her and admire her beauty, and her porcelain skin. She’s perfect. And she asks me if I think she’ll ever have a boyfriend. I tell her to enjoy her life and those things will come later. *

I already wrote about part of our Washington trip. After visiting the Holocaust museum, we went to the Museum of Natural History. We were going to grab lunch and there were some options outside, but we ended up going inside. I warned Ashley that you have to sell a kidney to eat in the “cafés,” and the cafeteria – which is the affordable option – was closed for renovation.

So I got a hoagie, a PB&J, and one water, for …. TWENTY EIGHT DOLLARS. Ashley spent $39. I had to spot Maddie two dollars so she could buy a sandwich for $11. Somewhere inside the museum, I lost V’s medical bag with $600 worth of insulin in it.

Back at work, we had our annual mock code, which was both exciting and an anxiety-ridden learning moment. And, every year something real happens in the office within a week of this drill – and this year was no exception. No worries – everyone is fine.

While we’re on the subject of work, I picked up extra days at another location. It’s a longer drive to work, but to familiar territory, and it’s been fun meeting another whole staff of folks. It’s also lovely to go in and already know how to do the job, even if they do some things differently.

And, speaking of doing things differently, Neph returned to the homestead two weekends in a row. He bought a new car the first weekend, with Uncle Todd’s guidance, that was not a pickup truck and not without drama because that’s just how we roll. At this point Todd will insist that is not how HE rolls…but I can tell you that it follows us anyway no matter how hard we try to run from it.

The following weekend he returned for a package he had delivered here, did some laundry, and managed to empty my fridge and left an unmentionable surprise in the bathroom downstairs. I’m currently in the refusal-to-fix-it stage, which is akin to denial, but we all know this is just a pipe dream and I will have to face the truth sooner or later. And I’ve been really good – I haven’t even bitched to Todd about it. Yet.

Okay. What else have we done?

Todd and I attended a gallery exhibit of work by his former boss, a brain cancer survivor who is mindblowingly talented with a camera. We have earmarked two pieces for our personal collection after the exhibit ends.

I cleaned up and planted new flowers in the gardens out front, and it actually looks really nice. And I’m not done yet. Veruca got me a hydrangea for Easter that I have yet to plant, and had the audacity to tell me not to kill it. She’s even watered it a few times, “so it wouldn’t die.” AS IF. I did point out that my current basil plant is still going strong.

And speaking of plants, last week was Administrative professionals day and there were lots of presents for me when I came in Friday (!!!) … including a succulent (aren’t they hard to kill?) and a pack of dianthus plants.

Last weekend we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday, which I will always remember because it’s also the same day that Prince died. I also learned some other interesting coincidences about that particular day. **

I cleaned up the deck Saturday, finished one planter, and put out the new cushions and umbrella. And then Todd brought all the cushions inside when the rain moved in.

And then another bowling tournament an hour and a half away in PA. What should have been an easy ride and a nice dinner beforehand with friends turned in a roadway clusterfuck as we encountered three – THREE – emergency situations that made me wonder if the universe just wanted us to stay home. One head-on collision, one industrial fire, and another car wreck… all with detours and dinner plans turned into a quick in-and-out and boxes to go.

I guess everyone bowled well. I don’t bowl. I drink. Well, I was on the wagon in April, until Saturday night. So I had a great time getting lit for $20 at the firehouse that was hosting. Smoky as hell in there, which today makes me always want to hold my breath – knowing the dangers of secondhand smoke – though as a child whose grandparents smoked, I learned to love the smell.

*A forthcoming post about middle schoolers.

** A forthcoming post about April 21st.

Destination: Washington, DC

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Photo Copyright Taraka & The Tara Chronicles, 2018

Yesterday was the long-awaited seventh grade field trip to Washington, DC, to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Veruca was very excited, at least insofar as one can be excited to spend a day away from the classroom and visit a different city. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to this trip. And not just because of the solemn nature of the lesson.

We had to arrive at school at 6:30 a.m., and would not be returning for… twelve hours. I was a chaperone and so again responsible for other children not my own. That alone induces anxiety, though I have to admit it’s far better with 12- and 13-year-olds than it is with 8-year-olds. We were going to Washington, DC, a place my apocalyptic mind is certain is North Korea’s prime target. (Nevermind that if this were to truly happen, we don’t live far enough away from DC to survive anyway.)

So we arrive at 6:35 and board one of four buses. I get the last adult seat next to a very nice, but large, man. We introduce ourselves. And then he buckles up his seatbelt (they have these on tour buses!) while remarking he doesn’t want “another Tracy Morgan situation.” Great. What the hell do you say to that?

I texted my mom friend, Ashley, who was on another bus. Our bus didn’t have enough seats, as it soon turned out when three more people tried to board, and one of the two teachers riding with us was outside on the sidewalk losing her shit. And I can hear the bus driver saying all the buses have 58 seats, they’ve always had 58 seats, blah blah blah. All this, before 7 o’clock in the morning. I sipped my coffee and watched them through the window with fascination.

Disaster was eventually diverted when some seats were discovered on the other buses and we were soon on our way. Spazzy loaded the Night at the Museum movie and, later, the second one. After the longest bus ride ever, we finally pulled up next to the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum.

Our ticket time was 11:30 and we had an hour and a half to kill. Ashley announced that she needed Starbucks NOW and so she plugged it into her GPS and we were off. The six of us loaded up on beverages (my girls went with “The Pink Drink” – seriously) and I went with a White Chocolate Mocha Tall. I was so proud of myself for not screwing up how to order at Starbucks.

There are A LOT of black SUVs with tinted windows in DC. It’s creepy, the way they’re parked, engines running, along the streets. Something about them gave me anxiety. Or, maybe it was the caffeine. Either way, I was grateful to get away from them.

It’s a very serious matter, entering museums today – like going through airport security – bags are put through x-ray machines and we walk through metal detectors. V cannot go through – because her insulin pump cannot go through x-ray machines – so at every entrance we have to announce this and she goes around the machine and is personally inspected. Oh, did she love that.

After, we’re handed “Identification Cards” we aren’t supposed to open until sometime later (though no one ever tells us when and we end up cheating, I suppose, because we look). Each card holds the name and photograph of a real person who lived during the Holocaust.

Our group was lined up on a staircase, four across on each step – or, were supposed to be – but it’s kind of hard to squish that many people together especially when many are full-sized adults. One of the chaperones or teachers (not sure who she was) ordered my three girls and me to step down, because every step had to have 4 people on it. I said, there’s no room to step down. (There was a dad directly in front of me who was easily 6 feet tall, twice my size and clearly need TWO steps – picture this scenario). She said, you have to… every step has to be filled. I’m not pressing my body against a stranger, I snapped. (Yeah, I know. Not good form in front of the kids.) For the record, I’m usually very agreeable. I don’t know what got into me.

And before you think I’m a total asshole, I GET IT. I know there was a point to that exercise as we waited for our whole group to get through security. The mom on the opposite end of that step in front of me sniggled. The dad behind me, equally as large, announced a few minutes into our wait that, I hope I don’t get lightheaded and fall down like that last time. And I burst out laughing. I told him at least he’d have a soft landing.

We were soon led to a more open area and three elevators designed to look like something industrial and that’s all I’m going to say about that because I was having the most uneasy feelings here and I couldn’t shake it. (Yeah, yeah, I GET IT.)

The guide asked our group some questions, including – How many people did Hitler kill?                  Do YOU know?

Anyway, the museum was very crowded. But quiet. People spoke in whispers. There was at least one other school there and we spent so much time reading the exhibits that I looked around at one point and didn’t recognize anyone. To say that there wasn’t enough time to spend here is the understatement of the year.

We were never taught much about the Holocaust in school. I didn’t read anything related to it until I was in college. I didn’t know who Elie Wiesel was until my Junior year. I don’t think I knew that some 25,000 books that were decidedly “un-German” were burned on this very day in 1933. I didn’t know that books were published and taught to German schoolchildren, intended to indoctrinate them to Nazism and prejudice against Jews. I don’t think I knew that the Nazis also exterminated people who were “incurably ill.” Veruca said, I would’ve been killed.

We left the museum roughly 2 hours later. We were all hungry and also wanted to visit another museum while there was still time. At least one of us wanted to shop.

 

Details….

Raizel Kisielnicki was a 44-year-old mother of three who lived near Warsaw. She and her husband owned a grocery, gas station, and restaurant. On September 25, 1942 she and more than 3000 other Jews in their town of Kaluszyn were deported to an extermination camp, where she died.

Attack on Intellectual Freedom. The 1933 Book Burnings were carried out by German students from universities around Germany. “Any book which acts subversively on our future or strikes at the root of German thought, the German home, and the driving forces of our people” and/or written by authors considered enemies of National Socialism. These included Einstein, Mann, Freud, Kafka, Marx, H.G. Wells, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller, and Margaret Sanger.

Indoctrination of schoolchildren. The Nazi regime removed Jewish teachers and others who were considered “politically unreliable.” Hitler’s portrait hung in every classroom. New textbooks that taught obedience to state authority, racism, militarism, and antisemitism, and love for Hitler were utilized in classrooms. Der Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) was an anti-Semitic children’s picture book metaphorically explaining how to recognize a Jew, in the form of “good” mushrooms vs. “bad” mushrooms.

Who. Hitler only singled out Jews, who he saw as an inferior race, for complete annihilation. Germans were among the first to be persecuted for their political activities, for being mentally or physically handicapped, or homosexuals, criminals, or nonconformists. Hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti (“Gypsies”) were also killed. The people of Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia were also considered inferior races.

How many? The question was, how many did Hitler kill? The answer is ONE. HE killed one person. Himself. Yet he was able to commandeer an army of Nazis to exterminate an estimated SIX MILLION Jews, and others…And an entire population of people was complicit in these killings.

Think about that.